7 Ways to Cultivate Hope, Even in Trying Times
Try these simple practices to improve your outlook on life.
Posted Jul 22, 2020
We are in a period where many are experiencing emotional upset and coping with mental health concerns without needed resources. Opioid overdoses are on the rise. Suicide rates are expected to increase. Those working to overcome addiction, trauma, or the stress of unemployment or poverty, may need extra support.
In addition to professional mental health treatment, there are day-to-day activities we can use to improve our mental health. Here are seven ways to cultivate hope in trying times.
Focus on What You Can Change
In 12-step programs, the Serenity Prayer is often recited to remind us that some things are outside our control. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Whether one is religious or not, recognizing that many things are outside our control can bring a sense of peace.
When we recognize what we cannot control, we also recognize what we can. We largely have control over what we eat, whether or not we choose to exercise or meditate. We have control over doing something productive during the day and taking time to rest. If we find that we have problems in these areas, we can seek help. By focusing on what we can change, we can be uplifted by acts of self-care.
Right now, everything is probably OK. Most of our worry is focused on what might happen. What will we do if we get sick, or lose our job, or have to care for a loved one? How will we protect against disaster? What will happen to our businesses? Will our children go back to school? When? Is it safe? There is a list of problems and uncertainties that can ruin our days. While it is important to plan for the future, if we find ourselves getting down, reminding ourselves that we are safe in this moment can help. Meditation, noticing our surroundings, or other mindfulness practices can help us maintain a sense of calm.
Develop a Spiritual Life
Believing in something greater than ourselves can foster a sense of serenity. A practice of reading from spiritual books in the morning may help us connect to a larger view. It might be participating in religious services or community groups that helps us develop a sense of purpose. Maybe hiking in a natural setting or sitting at the beach will foster a feeling of connection to a Higher Power. Whatever it is for each of us, developing a spiritual practice can create a more hopeful worldview.
Do Something You Love
Participating in activities that bring us joy is one of the most important ways we can develop a sense of hope in trying times. Surf. Ride a horse. Garden. Knit. Sew masks for people in need. Cook. Play music. Whatever it is that makes you smile, do whatever you can to be sure you do it as often as possible. This is not an escape, but an understanding that there are activities that bring us genuine joy. In difficult times; having these outlets gives us fortitude and resilience to weather the tougher parts of the day.
Be with People Who Make You Feel Good
Some people feel like an embodiment of light. We feel good when we are around them. Who are those close friends or family? Make sure you spend time with them. If it’s not possible to be with them in person, call, text, or have a video chat. Sit in the garden at a good distance from one another. Connection is of critical importance to everyone, not the least of which those who are suffering from addiction or suicidal ideation. Make an effort to reach out, even when it’s difficult, and let the people you care about know it.
Be of Service
People are in need during the pandemic. Can you volunteer at a food bank or drop off a little extra to a family you know doesn’t have enough? Can you cut your neighbor’s lawn or walk their dog? Can you take a phone call from someone who needs to talk, and just listen? Can you offer the lemons or peaches on your tree to neighbors? Can you cut a few flowers for an elderly person to enjoy? There are so many ways to help others that cost little or no money and can be done with safety measures in mind. When we are of service to others, we aren’t thinking about our own problems, and we become spreaders of hope.
Gratitude is a feeling of appreciation for that which is good in our lives. In times like these, our gratitude might be for small things, like the warmth of the sun through the window in the morning or a beloved pet sitting at our feet. Purposefully recognizing what we have to be grateful for can uplift us when the urge to use comes over us, or life seems increasingly bleak and we begin to entertain suicidal thoughts with more frequency. Cultivating gratitude can offset those ideas, providing meaning.
Viktor Frankl suggests that meaning is found in the world, not in ourselves. When we can get out of self, out of the prison of our minds’ sometimes catastrophizing thinking, we can find hope. Everyone is facing stress nowadays, even more so for those with mental health and substance-abuse issues. Still, it is possible to cultivate hope and forge a path that creates opportunities for positivity, despite the very real darkness we each face.